MADISON, NJ - Mark DeBiasse, Humanities Supervisor for Madison Public Schools, was selected to study Native American History this summer at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He was selected by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the premier nonprofit American history organization devoted to the improvement of history education in the US.
DeBiasse will spend a week in July with an intimate group of educators from all around the country, studying under widely renowned Native American historian Colin Calloway. As a group, they will explore Native American history through a series of topics and case studies, including early encounters, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and persistence in the face of American expansion and assimilation policies.
Gilder Lehrman acts as a repository for thousands of primary historical documents that provide context and bring to life critical moments in our nation’s history, such as Civil War letters, American soldier diaries and maps used by early explorers. It is located at the New York Historical Society.
DeBiasse applied for the Gilder Lehrman teacher seminar in December by answering a series of essays and was notified that he was selected in March. He was especially interested in Native American history after interviewing a number of student groups in Madison to understand which populations and perspectives they felt were under-represented in the existing history curriculum.
“Last summer, when we re-wrote the curriculum, I wanted to be sure we were giving a voice to those who have been marginalized over the years,” said DeBiasse. “The Native Americans are such a group, and when I learned that Gilder Lehrman was offering a Native American course, I knew I had to apply.”
The Native American Teacher Seminar is not the only way the Madison School District benefits from Gilder Lehrman. It’s actually an affiliate of the organization and takes advantage of Teaching Literacy through History (TLTH), Gilder Lehrman’s interdisciplinary professional development program designed to improve K-12 education. With a third-party grant, Master Teacher Fellows teach Madison educators how to improve students’ critical thinking, close reading and analytical writing skills through the use of historical texts and primary documents. They have visited Madison three times a year for the past two years through the generosity of the Kirby Foundation.
“This is the kind of professional development teachers and their supervisors dream about,” said DeBiasse. “Distinguished professors show us how to analyze historical documents that were written in the language of their day, which can be difficult for students to interpret. They also show us how to spot bias, and understand the context in which they were written. And the best part is that it’s completely free to the district, thanks to a third-party grant. It’s a really smart way to advance our curriculum.”
For more information about Gilder Lehrman, visit gilderlehrman.org.